Mariolina Ceriotti, La famiglia imperfetta – The Imperfect Family (Ares, Milano 2010)
No one is perfect. Neither adults nor children. However, this fact is not important. Mistakes are part of our educative role: we aim constantly for perfection and in doing so we make a virtue in trying to be so . The fear of making mistakes with our own children could lead to uncontrollable anxiety or a state of passiveness, neither reactions are not what we had intended. Educating our children means something more specific and precise; something which consists in transmitting a passion for life. We must learn to put aside our uncertainties and worries when we have children. According to Mariolina Ceriotti, it would seem that many parents have lost their confidence in their educative role. Mariolina Ceriotti, a child neuro-psychiatrist and psychotherapist and mother of six, says it’s as if the natural compass is not activated when they become parents. Doctor Ceriotti works in the national and private health service and deals mainly with problems in infant and adolescent ages and the relationships in couples.
The book does not try to point the finger at who is right or wrong in certain conflictual situations, be it the child or the parent nor does she try to analyse the tendency to feel guilty in certain situations and worry about influencing negatively our children in the formative years of their lives. On the contrary, the author has found a guiding thread: the search for and encourage the relationship between the parents and children. The reason is simple: every child who comes into the world deserves the best possible relationship with…..who? That’s right! Us! Despite being imperfect parents, we still desire to help the child in every way possible.
One of the key concepts is normality. The author states that every problem stems from an incorrect education which cannot be treated like a psychological anomaly or an illness. There are specific illnesses in infant and adolescent ages which are treated by specialists. However, most of the difficulties that parents face in raising their children are seen as common, everyday problems like growth, relating to others, adapting to new situations and consequently they cannot be considered as real pathological problems. A parental guide helps children to grow up and adapt to a world full of difficulties especially in infancy and adolescence where great energy and efforts are needed on their part. Nevertheless, all is not lost! The mistakes we make in raising our children are not unforgivable or everlasting if we learn to rectify in time and show some degree of flexibility.
It would be fair to say a “normal” boy (or girl) growing up is imperfect. Children go through certain complex processes: conquests and defeats, becoming an adult, withdrawal, moments of satisfaction and moments of frustration. Some parents unknowingly give a pessimist or apprehensive view to educating children as if the final objective was simply to avoid immediate or future dangers like anorexia, alcoholism, drug addiction and unhappiness. Nevertheless, being afraid, being bored, lacking self confidence, being shy or disorganised, having nightmares, being occasionally aggressive are relatively common and can be overcome. Many of these, are assumed to be psychological problems but are in actual fact educative problems.
The best way to establish a balance realistically and positively is to “build” a family, that is to be aware of the potential difficulties and opportunities that arise in our relationship with our companion and with our educative role with our children. We must not fall into the trap of exchanging roles as if we on a par or steal the roles or duties of our partner. Man and woman bring each individual wealth that cannot be substituted and which in turn allows a companion to change in marriage and ultimately in a family.
Ceriotti mentions four aspects which should be corrected as soon as possible:
a) A respect for boundaries. Children have a right to their own personal sphere either physical or psychological. It is necessary to help them understand a way to express and protect their own intimacy and the relationship they have with their own body. An over affectionate mother or a child brought up with no sense of decency in the early years can lead to an invasion of territory of others.
b) The emotional maturity of the parents should be expressed by maintaining with a certain degree of flexibility an adequate distance. They should learn to be by themselves. Children have the right to have space or in other words a relational distance and this changes according to the various stages in their lives. The mother must learn to distance herself gradually from her son in order for him to be independent. A sudden or brusque separation would cause a precocious independence. The most important thing is an inner maturity. We need to learn to tolerate the phases in growing up, accepting that there will be moments of sadness or dissatisfaction. They need to learn how to live with their problems and that there are moments in life when “no” is a frequent answer.
c) It is necessary that every member know his/her place in the family. Children must see that the adult can keep and maintain the respective roles of members which will evolve through time. The change from the twosome husband- wife to the threesome husband-wife and child means for example a husband shows his affection differently in the presence of children. The arrival of a new brother or children becoming adults are other stages which require respect for each person’s role. Change also means there will be a wealth of emotions along the way.
d) Educating children means proposing a system of values. It is not sufficient to have a good ear. Adults have the responsibility to transmit values to their children. According to the author, the family today can be defined as “fundamentally emotional” which in some ways can be an advantage but it also brings its risks. Consequently, the family is much more fragile today and a continual effort should be made to “a kind of schooling” in the family to educate our children to attain solid values.
The book is presented with meaningful regard and thought while the language used is accessible to all. It injects optimism but at the same time it is realistic and brings to light many problems. The book, however, does not go into a deep analysis of each of the problems because of volume concision. It could be used as useful source of ideas for parents and educators and family associations. Some ideas can be used in educating on the use of the media or as a means of presenting a familiar education in the public opinion.